In this episode of “How I Work,” host Josh Becerra interviews Susan Rylance, a business marketing growth strategist. Rylance shares her early experiences in retail management and how they taught her the importance of being customer-facing and building relationships with customers.
How I Work, Episode 50 with Susan rylance
Susan Rylance takes us on a journey through her career, where she discovered the pivotal significance of effective communication and seamless collaboration within teams. Her insights underscore the profound impact of recognizing and harnessing individuals’ strengths as catalysts for achieving business excellence. Susan wraps up our discussion by sharing her roster of cherished thought leaders, bloggers, and podcasters who have influenced her career path. Plus:
- Intrapreneurship: Discover what it is and why it’s a game-changer.
- Tests to Improve Communication Amongst Teams: The power of StrengthsFinder
- Favorite Thought Leaders: Jay Shetty, Michael Kart, and Josh Becerra?
To learn more about Susan Rylance visit: https://www.linkedin.com/in/susanrylance/
Transcription: How I Work, Episode 50 (Susan Rylance)
Josh Becerra (00:00):
Hi everybody, this is Josh Becerra from Augurian. I am excited to introduce my guest for how I work today, Susan Rylance. Susan’s a business marketing growth strategist who has helped both SMBs and Fortune 500 companies build their marketing and digital teams, allowing them to focus on their overall business strategies and goals. She’s a performance driven, focused and trusted leader who drives top line revenue while keeping an eye on the bottom line. Susan, I’m super excited to have you today.
Susan Rylance (00:33):
Thank you. Excited to be here, Josh. Appreciate you having me.
Josh Becerra (00:37):
Yeah, yeah, for sure. So when we prepped for this, you told me a story going all the way back to your first job as a 17 year old in your early days in retail management, where it was all about people being customer facing. So first just tell the audience a little bit about your story, how you got to where you are today, but secondly, I’d love to hear what some of those early days in retail being customer facing taught you and how those lessons continue to influence your work and how you think about your work today.
Susan Rylance (01:08):
Yeah, absolutely. Well, that’s a big, big package, but I will do my best to be concise. So yes, I did start early in my career in fast food and then jumped into retail. And if you’ve ever worked in fast food, you definitely learn what it’s like to be customer facing. And I was taught that you have to be present right in front of the customer, understand their needs. And so I just got this sense of that, number one in fast food, the quick need, but also what it’s like to work with a team because I was quickly promoted to a supervisor and I was leading people that were much older than me and thrown into something that I had probably no business doing.
Josh Becerra (01:53):
They must have seen something in you.
Susan Rylance (01:55):
Yeah, they did. And it’s interesting, but what I learned there is I didn’t get a lot of training. I jumped into a lot of things and it taught me that, hey, maybe I want to train my employees a little bit more, but it also allowed me to do things and take on a little bit more challenges that I was uncomfortable with. So that was one. And then fast forwarding into my first job out of college, I was in retail management, so stayed in customer facing retail management and a little bit more experience under my belt at that time. And what I learned is being in front of the customer really is building a relationship. I got to understand them, and if I truly understood them and asked them about their personal life to a point that you can and just relate to them, I would be better able to help them.
And I’ll just give an example. I was working in retail management at Macy’s at Mall of America early in the days when it was first there. And I had a customer who had just come in to tell me her story that she was a photographer for National Geographic and number one, I thought that was pretty cool because I like photography. It was something that I enjoyed. But the other thing she did was she was an underwater photographer taking pictures of the whales as they were feeding. And so what I learned is I can relate to these people. If I listen to their story and truly understand, then I can relate to them. And it then helped me better meet her needs of what she was looking for, how I would delight her to make sure that she was happy and then would be able to come back and tell other people.
And so it was related to understanding that they’re real people and that they’re there for a reason and how we can truly help them. So that was number one of what it helped me do and how I take that forward is just everything I do. I try to remember those days that if you’re in front of that customer, how can we relate to them and how can we make sure we’re continuing to delight people? And there’s many times that you can think about some of the negative things that, hey, they’re maybe not being the way you want, but something might’ve happened in their day, and what can we do to change their day and in turn change your day and be more positive about it?
Josh Becerra (04:38):
Yeah, yeah, I mean, I think anytime you’re bringing that kind of relational, you kind of little bit of vulnerability, empathy to any kind of conversations you’re having, be it with customers or fellow teammates or in your personal life, that’s where I think you have success. So that’s super interesting how at even such an early age you are kind of unpacking these things. And I know that after retail management you kind of went on to do bigger things. So why don’t you tell us a little bit more about that side of your story?
Susan Rylance (05:16):
Yeah, absolutely. And those early days certainly were foundational in helping me as I went onto the next phase. So I was in retail management, and then I went into corporate America in this world called staffing, which I didn’t know anything about. I was with a company for about eight months, nine months, and they decided to open a new division, which was a creative and marketing division. And that was intriguing to me. I was a little bit more on the creative side. I had a fashion degree, and so this got me a little bit closer. So the leader asked me to come in and open up a new marketing staffing company. And looking back, I thought, wow, I’m in my early late twenties and I’m helping start up a new business within a business. And I look back now and I’m like, oh, who let me do that? Yeah.
Josh Becerra (06:19):
It’s kind of amazing how you found an opportunity. I mean, obviously you have something special that people see in you that are like, this person has skills, let’s take full advantage. But it seems like every kind of step you’ve been put into a situation where it’s like, let’s challenge Susan to figure this out for us.
Susan Rylance (06:41):
And that’s a good point because I do like a challenge. I like to feel a little uncomfortable. And I think it does go back to those early days of being put into a supervisor position and being uncomfortable and not knowing. And so I do think those early days allowed me to take on new risks for myself and be a little bit less risk averse than maybe somebody else. And when I look at the entrepreneurship role where it was a little bit risk averse because I didn’t have to come up with my own money, however, starting a new business, I had to be able to perform in order to get what I wanted from a compensation. But also I had now a team and we had to build out a new brand, a new organization that was a little bit different than what the parent organization had. I do
Josh Becerra (07:37):
Want to unpack a little bit of your intrapreneur experience in a little bit, but so now we’re in kind of your mid twenties and you’re in this staffing role, this entrepreneurship role. We’ll talk a little bit more about that in a second. So what happened next for you in your career to get to where you are today?
Susan Rylance (07:57):
Yeah, so like I said, I started that new division. I was then later asked to lead other divisions across the country by the c E o. And so I then was leading for different brands across the country with I think seven different offices and locations. And I had to really, it goes back to understanding people on several different fronts. I had to understand not only the customers and the diverse customers we had from different locations from Texas to the east coast in the Midwest, and you had to understand each one of those personas. But I also had to understand my employees and how do we grow a business? How can we motivate each other? How do I use each of their strengths to the advantage to help grow the business? And then I also had to work with peers across the organization so that we could co-collaborate and help each other, both across the organization and up to the organization.
Later, I was then asked to lead marketing for the parent company and the seven different organizations within that. And that was another challenge for me along the way that I was wondering why are they coming to me asking me to lead marketing when I have never led marketing before? And they did see something, and maybe it was the perseverance that I have and also a little bit of risk, and I think what can it hurt to try something new? And I also knew that organization and the leaders, and so I was comfortable there, and I had worked with marketers much of my career at that point, and I was helping them build their teams. And so all I did was built my own team internally and had that strategy and use the people’s strength around me to basically implement the marketing strategy plans for the companies.
Fast forward, the company was then acquired and was asked to reduce headcount, and I think the team that we had could do the job. And so I negotiated my departure and then went to a smaller company that was essentially in a turnaround phase or a growth phase, and I joined them as a sales and marketing leader, had to bring out a new brand, expanded to new markets, did that for a couple of years, and then I had the opportunity to do my own thing, meaning be a truly entrepreneur studying my own consulting business. So you can see this evolution that I’ve learned along the way of, I was a little bit less risk averse at that time. I had a little bit more confidence with the people around me that were just championing me along the way because I didn’t always have that confidence, but the people around me had the confidence in me, and that’s what made the difference.
Josh Becerra (11:00):
Yeah, I mean, I think that is super important to kind of have some of those people who maybe see something in you that you don’t necessarily see in yourself, and that they have the kind of willingness to put those opportunities in front of you, and you obviously knocked them down. So that just feels great. Let’s talk a little bit about that intrapreneur kind of experience that you had. I just think that’s really cool. I’m an entrepreneur, we’ve started a service-based business and have grown it, but being an intrapreneur I think is very, in a lot of ways similar. So talk a little bit more about what that role looked like and then what you learned about building and growing a business from that experience.
Susan Rylance (11:45):
Yeah, absolutely. It is similar in a sense, and again, a little bit more less risky, but at times, what I was learning is there was a market out there that I had to appease, and I was understanding that we were building our own brand within the bigger business. And at that time, we weren’t talking about vision, mission, values as much as we are today. And so we were creating without knowing that we were creating our own vision, mission values based on how we showed up, how we wanted to provide thought leadership, what we wanted to provide. And we talked about two sets of clients At that time, it was a staffing company, and we had our, well three sets of clients, the customer, meaning the end client, where we worked with the talent, who provided those services, and then internally and how did we make sure that we were winning from all three of those. So from an intrapreneur, we did get some guidance around, Hey, we want to make sure that we’re focused on all three sets of clients. And so I got that guidance and I had coaching. So I think about it as an internal coach that I didn’t have to pay for. So that’s what the difference was from entrepreneurship versus entrepreneurship. It was kind of internal coaches, which helped guide me and teach me when I was an entrepreneur later.
Josh Becerra (13:16):
For sure. So one of the things that I’m here from you and I believe to be true is you really are team oriented. So even all the way back to when you’re 17 years old and they’re putting you in charge of a team to when you are building teams and maybe seven locations across country, the country, and looking at this kind of how to figure out how those teams collaborate with one another, you’re obviously very reliant on effective communication In order to do that. I feel like one of the things that I see is marketers kind of struggle with communicating up and down and across, and it seems like you have a lot of experience with communication and building teams and cross collaboration at different levels. So what kind of advice would you have for marketers who are struggling with communicating or creating cross collaboration among teams?
Susan Rylance (14:20):
And that’s something that I’ve certainly learned and trying to get better at every day, but it was holding regular communication cadence meetings with each one of those. So it might be less when you’re managing up, you might have a monthly communication cadence meeting with them and your peers across it might be twice a month, and then your direct reports more regularly, whether it’s weekly or monthly. But being ready and coming to those conversations with some, what are the goals that you want to accomplish together? What are the business goals and how do we work together to accomplish those goals? And creating that cadence of that, but also what story can you bring so that everybody understands? So for example, and I’ve got some really great guidance from some of my peers over the years when I was in a leadership position that I was reporting to the CEO,, some of those things is, you have to remember that it needs to be short and concise in terms of communication.
So communicating up, you’re changing a little bit of your communication style when you’re communicating across your organization. It’s a little bit different. Your communication is there, the stories have to be there, but also what’s in it for them to be able to communicate with you on that regular basis. And so there’s just little tricks of communicating a little bit differently with each of those. And then communicating down should be on a very regular basis and almost on the spot, but where’s their time to get to know the person as well? And that was the other thing: how do we get to know each other? That’s the biggest piece because then you can tell the right story. So that’s where the whole customer service comes into play is communicating the right message to the right audience.
Josh Becerra (16:16):
Yeah, I definitely think thinking about your audience and then building those personal trusted relationships in all directions so that you know, have this thing in common. It’s like going back to your retail management story. If you can know that you have something in common with this National Geographic photographer, you can make that connection. And so how do you do that with your peers across the organization? How do you do that with people that are reporting to you? And then even how do you do that up above you when you’re reporting up? And I do think that many times it can, the things that you have in common can be personal, but they can also be common objectives within the organization. So if we have alignment on goals, and that’s what our biggest commonality is, then we speak to that all the time. And so that kind of opens people up to say, okay, you get me what I’m most interested in, right? The CEO has goals. Let’s make sure that we’re talking about those goals with them. So anyway, I do like this idea of making sure you understand who your audience is and then connecting with them around something that you have in common.
Susan Rylance (17:37):
And I think you tipped on something right there, because that is probably the most common reason why you have disparate teams. And marketing sometimes gets pit in the middle of that. It’s because we’re not finding common goals in the business, and we’re not getting to know each other because we might have these altruistic ideas of somebody that really don’t exist because we didn’t get to know them as a person.
Josh Becerra (18:04):
Yeah. Well, speaking about getting to know people as a person, one of the things that you and I touched on in a previous conversation was that we both have used the strengthsfinder assessments with our teams, and I’m sure probably other things like Myers-Briggs or disc or whatever, but I’m just curious, knowing that you have used Strengthsfinder assessments, what have you seen from using those types of assessments as a manager? What’s the value that you’ve seen from using those? Yeah.
Susan Rylance (18:40):
Well, I could talk for a really long time, but I’ll be more concise. And yes, I have used Strengthsfinder as a really great communication tool, and I’ll talk a little bit more about that. And I have looked at the other assessment tools, and for some reason, strengthsFinder just really resonated with me and my teams. And partly I had a couple different teams, one in Chicago, one that I had hired an employee, and then one of the managers had taken over that business unit. And so there was a little bit of a disconnect. I hired him, I got to know him personally. So he’s taken on a new leader or a new employee as a leader, and he was struggling to communicate. He said he questions everything I do. He thought he was questioning his authority. So I reached out to my HR business partner and she recommended StrengthFinder.
So what it allowed us to do is understand the strengths that we have. And so the person I’m speaking about, one of his number one strengths is analytics. And what do we do as analysts? We seek to understand, we ask more questions in order to derive the right results or understand the results. So once we as a team went through that and shared the strengths of each person and what they meant, it was such a defining moment for the two of them. The manager’s like, oh my gosh, he just needs more information to process. He’s not questioning my authority. And they became the best buds ever, and it was such a great and successful integration of the two businesses that they were leading. So that’s an amazing success story. But I also think there’s other ways that we can use them as whether we’re in marketing, whether we’re in sales or whatever we’re in, but just understanding the strengths as a whole and knowing when they show up and how can we leverage each other’s strengths, because I don’t have the same strengths as you, I’m guessing.
But can we pair them together and then really move forward? And then the last thing I’ll say on Strengthsfinder that I really appreciate is their strengths. And so many companies say, well, let’s really improve your weaknesses. It’s like, well, that’s going to be a lot harder than if you leverage my strengths with Josh’s strengths, because he’s got strengths that are my weaknesses. So why don’t we leverage them together? And again, I go about collaboration, but it’s so amazing that you can use these strengths together instead of putting so much effort and time on your weaknesses.
Josh Becerra (21:23):
Yeah, no, I love it. I love that your entire kind of ethos is around people. It’s around the way that you drive business success and outcomes is by understanding yourself, understanding your teams, understanding your customers. So there’s a high priority on people. And I do think that in a lot of ways, that’s when companies excel is when they really do have a clear understanding of their customer, when they have a clear understanding of their customer’s kind of needs or challenges, and can help them articulate solutions to those things. And that goes for customers, as it does for teammates and leaders. Right. So yeah, I think it’s really cool to hear you talk about how much the people’s side of business is important in driving results.
Susan Rylance (22:21):
Absolutely. One, and I’ll just say one more thing to that. That’s interesting because we talked about the people and being in front of people that I learned early on with customer service, but now we’re in the world where we’re serving customers that we never see. And so now you talk about how I create that experience for them in a digital fashion or whatever that is. Now, we talk about omnichannel because they might be in person one time, and then they might be online, or we might be communicating through a chat. That’s a whole new complex piece of customer service today.
Josh Becerra (22:59):
Yeah, for sure. It’s also really awesome when it all jives and works together. You can just kind of know when brands have it together, and no matter where you see them or where they show up, it always feels like the right thing. So yeah, omnichannel can be super powerful when done and when done wrong. You’ve got this scattered sense and not a really clear understanding of the company or values. So anyway, I like that call out for sure. Yeah. So we’re kind of coming to the end of our time here, but there is one question that I love to ask all of my guests, and that’s just, are there thought leaders, bloggers, podcasters, or authors that you’ve been paying attention to that you’re reading or listening to?
Susan Rylance (23:55):
Yeah. Yeah. So I have an array that I listen to. So probably not one main thing, but lately I’m into more on leadership and purpose type work. So one of my favorite podcasts is On Purpose by Jay Shetty. He’s got some amazing guests, but he also has some amazing insights just to help us with our purpose as well. The Huberman Lab, another interesting one. Those are really long podcasts, so you might need a couple hours in the car. And then I’ll throw a couple locals in. And now Josh, your podcast, I’ll be listening to that more often.
Josh Becerra (24:40):
Right? Let’s go.
Susan Rylance (24:41):
Yes. But two locals that I’ve really appreciated is Champions of Risk by Michael Kart. She’s got some great guests on, and that’s about leadership and then superpower success, which is Keystone groups. So some locals that are my favorites that I listen to, some national. And then just for fun is Smartless.
Josh Becerra (25:05):
Nice. Love that. So actually, we just filmed the How I Work episode with the CEO of Keystone Group. So they’re popping up on my podcast a number of times.
Susan Rylance (25:16):
There you go. That’s awesome. Yeah. Awesome.
Josh Becerra (25:18):
Well, Susan, this has been really fun. I really appreciate your time. I want to thank you so much for being here. And that’ll do it for this episode of How I Work. Thanks.
Susan Rylance (25:28):